Friday 4 August 2023

Overcoming the double-negative conceptualizations of Jesus Christ

Over the past few years, since I spent a year or so multiply re-reading the Fourth Gospel ("of John") in isolation; I have often emphasized the covertly-deceptive way in which double-negative formulations have colonized and distorted our minds and motivations - both in Christianity and in mainstream modern secular 'leftism'.  

A double-negative is not the same as a positive; yet it seems obvious that most people fail to recognize the essentially negative conceptualizations of their own beliefs and ideals: they suppose themselves to be idealists, with some kind of positive agenda; yet they nearly-always are in thrall to some merely double-negation.

For instance, they believe that the double-negations of being against CO2 climate change, or protecting the environment, is the same thing as loving and cherishing our relation to this natural world. And the consequence is massive destruction of nature and the severing of Men from the natural. 

The supposedly 'ecological' doubled double-negative of "stopping climate change" and "protecting the environment" leads to an explicit (albeit deceptive) vision of humankind crammed into pods of '15 minute' mega-cities, eating processed bugs delivered by drones - and experiencing nature only virtually, via media. 

(The double-negative attitude towards nature leads inexorably to the negation of Man - i.e. his extinction.)

Unfortunately, this kind of double-negation applies to many Christian understandings of Jesus Christ.

This is evident from using the synonym the Saviour to describe what is regarded as the essence of what He did for us. And that essence of what Jesus did is summarized as the Atonement - which is another double-negation. The same could be said about calling Jesus the redeemer, and describing the crucifixion as a redemption; all terms betray the primacy of double-negative theology. Conceptualizing Jesus's goodness as primarily sin-less-ness is another such.  

I am sure that this is mistaken, and also stands as an obstacle to modern understanding of Jesus Christ. Partly because because it is obvious that modern Man feels no spontaneous need for saving, atonement or redemption. 

If modern man must first be convinced of his default damnation from sin; he cannot begin to understand what Jesus is supposed to have done for him - thus evangelism is crippled. 

Yet the Fourth Gospel seems to tell a different story - at least if read straightforwardly, as our primary source of knowledge of Jesus's life and teachings (by which I mean; trying to understand the IV Gospel without subordinating it to the other Gospels, other parts of the New Testament, and the Bible as a whole). 

Of course; the IV Gospel can be interpreted in a double-negative fashion - as about Jesus as Saviour - since all positives can be reframed in a double-negative form. 

But reformulating a positive as double-negation always and necessarily leaves-out that which is truly positive; because in real-life (unlike mathematics!) a positive cannot emerge from negations

Being "against sin", does not tell us what to do instead-of sinning; just as being against "Anthropogenic Global Warming by CO2" does not tell mankind anything about how to build a good relationship with the natural world. 

(The double-negation of Jesus's teaching and work, leads to a negation of this mortal life - such that 'goodness' becomes the negation of sin, life the avoidance of damnation - life itself a thing to be got-through without falling and failing.)   

Jesus in the IV Gospel is presented, perfectly straightforwardly, as the giver of life everlasting*. Which is presented as a positive addition to human possibility. 

Yes, this also means negatively that Jesus "overcomes death" (a double-negation) - but this is only half the story, and the least helpful part. What Jesus offers positively is resurrection to eternal life in Heaven. 

And what this means is set-out in many points of the Gospel, albeit in ways that we tend to regard as poetical or allegorical - but, at the time of Jesus this was very probably the ordinary way that language was used. 

(Ancient languages had, what seems to us 'moderns', multiple and simultaneous meanings; they did not have the narrowly and precise, 'technical' and specialized - but utterly un-poetic! - language systems that we know from sciences, law, and bureaucracy generally.)   

Double-negatively expressed Jesus "overcomes death" - and death meant something different in Jesus's time and place than it does for us; yet 'death', then and now, shared the core meaning of the ending of self, a situation caused by the death of our body

When we die, our self will cease to be. For the Jews of Jesus's time this probably meant that soul was severed from body such that we would become witless, demented ghosts in Sheol

For modern Man death means utter annihilation - body and mind - forever. But in both instances we, as unique selves, are finished. 

But positively understood Jesus adds-to the human situation as it is understood to exist. 

Instead of things happening as they do without Jesus; Jesus makes possible something new and extra. 

Essentially; Jesus is the Giver of Life Everlasting, not the Saviour; because a positive trumps the partiality of a double-negative; because a giver is greater than a saver. 

*I argue elsewhere that in the IV Gospel "sin" means something closely equivalent to "death" - so that references to Jesus taking-away or overcoming "sin" are intended to refer essentially to death. But it is also true that sin in the sense of disharmony with God's motivations and methods, dis-alignment from the ways of divine creation, must be overcome before life everlasting, resurrection to Heavenly life eternal, can happen.


the outrigger said...

I normally let your higher falutin’ *what* you think posts through to the keeper, my interest leaning more towards what you think thinking is. This one, however, has clarified what you mean by double negative, and why you consider positive is not the mirror image of negative (forget how you worded it). There does seem to be a type of thought that has no ‘weight’ and another which does; analogous to motion considered kinematically or dynamically. Anyway. If you post ‘em, we’ll read ‘em.

Bruce Charlton said...

@to - Thanks (...I think)

the outrigger said...

It was meant as thanks for the posts that don't seem attract comment, even though I only get a proportion of them.

Since I'm here. Why do use the word 'learning' (when I expect you to use 'growth'). Notable in a recent PKD post... Regarding the sustained meditation on John you describe here, how much time do you spend reading relative to contemplating?... Are you able write in 'primary thinking' mode or do you write up a report later?

Bruce Charlton said...


"Why do use the word 'learning' (when I expect you to use 'growth')."

Because I intend that it be understood as an active process, requiring effort. Whereas growth is something that 'just happens' (mostly).

"how much time do you spend reading relative to contemplating?..."

More time contemplating - or mulling - than reading, but not in any particular ratio.

" Are you able write in 'primary thinking' mode or do you write up a report later?"

Yes sometimes, to both questions.